Say Goodbye to USB sticks: Scientists Found a Way to Store Data on Your DNA

Say Goodbye to USB sticks: Scientists Found a Way to Store Data on Your DNA
Photo from Dan Leadership

While we are all comfortable storing important files on our hard drives, USB sticks, SD cards, or even cloud accounts— a group of scientists from ETH Zurich University in Switzerland has been busy worrying about how long these hardwares will actually last.

So they came up with an idea of storing files on something that they know has been proven capable of withstanding the tests of time— the DNA.

The DNA is so complex and compact at the same time that it is said that a mere gram of it is capable of storing 455 exabytes of information. One exabyte is equivalent to a billion gigabytes, and researchers say that all the datas of internet giants like Facebook and Google combined can be stored in just one gram of DNA.

While scientists have discovered that fossilized DNAs can be as old as 700,000 years— which they believe is the longest period of time that a DNA can stay intact— researchers believe that the material can be preserved for a much longer period of time.

“The time limit with DNA in fossils is about 700,000 years but people speculate about finding one-million-year storage of genomic material in fossil bones,” said Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences lecturer Robert Grass in an interview with CNN.

“We were able to show that decay of our DNA and store of information decays at the same rate as the fossil DNA so we get to similar time frames of close to a million years.”

Grass says the biggest challenge in this experiment is that the DNA degrades quickly, but they have been trying to come up with methods to preserve it for far longer. He told:

“We have found elegant ways of making DNA very stable. So we wanted to combine these two stories — to get the high storage density of DNA and combine it with the archaeological aspects of DNA.”

So far, the team of scientists working with Grass were able to store 83 kilobytes of data into a DNA.

“The first is the Swiss Federal Charter of 1291 — it’s like the Swiss Magna Carta — and the other was the Archimedes Palimpsest; a copy of an Ancient Greek mathematics treatise made by a monk in the 10th century but which had been overwritten by other monks in the 15th century,” said Grass.

“We wanted to preserve these documents to show not just that the method works, but that the method is important too.”

According to Grass, the data they stored on the DNA will still be readable in 10 years’ time, and it could last up to a million years if kept frozen.

2 Comments

  • connie says:

    Whilst I come from an organic chemistry background and now work in IT and am seriously interested in the ideas behind storing data on DNA, do we not have enough issues with DNA and genetic diseases without the need to be adding to the problems? Or am I the only one left wondering why we would want to be storing data in/on DNA?

    Is the idea to store it in a storage jar that you have to feed daily, or the human body?
    I appreciate the idea is stunning and revolutionary, but the implications are also huge and what about cell replication verses data corruption? I can’t help feeling that this is more of a causing more issues than it solves solution.

  • Althea Estrella says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Connie. I believe the idea behind this is to come up with something that could store important files that can last through thousands of generations… They intend to ‘fossilize’ or preserve these DNA data banks… So “feeding” won’t really be necessary :)

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